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Vipassanā, (Pāli; Sanskrit: vipaśyanā refers to a meditation technique (also known as “insight meditation”) designed to cultivate a state of mind characterized by a certain quality of insight into mental phenomena (Sanskrit: dharmas). The term is also used to refer to a religious movement modelled after Theravada Buddhism which employs Vipassana and ānāpānameditation as its primary techniques and places emphasis on the teachings of the SatipatthanaSutta.
In a broader sense, vipassanā has been used as one of two poles for the categorization of types of Buddhist meditation, the other being samatha, pacifying or calming meditation. Samatha is understood in general to be a preparation for vipassana, helping clear the mind in order to develop insight. This dichotomy is also sometimes discussed as “stopping and seeing.”
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Vipassanā is a Pali word from the Sanskrit prefix “vi-” and verbal root &radix;drś. It is often translated as “insight” or“clear-seeing,” though, the “in-” prefix may be misleading; “vi” in Indo-Aryan languages is cognate to our “dis.” The “vi” in vipassanā may then mean to see apart, or discern. Alternatively, the “vi” can function as an intensive, and thus vipassanā may mean to see deeply. In any case, this is used metaphorically for a particularly powerful mental self-perception.
A synonym for “Vipassana” in paccakkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: pratyakṣa), “before the eyes,” which refers to direct experiential perception. Thus, the type of seeing denoted by “vipassanā” is that of direct perception, as opposed to knowledge derived from reasoning or argument.
Vipassana meditation consists of an energetic observation of physical objects and mental representations (nama and rupa) and thought-processes in their aspects of impermanence, unsatifactoriness and lack of an inherent, independent essence or self.
To see through the mode of impermanence means to examine things as to whether they are permanent. To see though the mode of unsatisfactoriness means to examine things as to whether they are satisfactory or are imbued with stress or suffering. To see through the mode of non-self means to examine things as to whether they have an permanent identity or self, or an essential nature.
In Vipassana meditation, the meditation object is one’s own consciousness, although it can be further refined to be one’s consciousness while observing, say, the breath, as in ānāpāna meditation. In this context, the modes of seeing refers to focusing on those aspects of consciousness which appear to have (or not have) these characteristics.
Vipassana as taught by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin is primarily a meditation on the physical sensations of the body. The meditator develops equanimity through observing sensation without craving or aversion, thus developing an understanding of its true nature.
Today, the term “Vipassana” also refers to the meditation technique used by many branches of modern TheravadaBuddhism, for example in modern Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos and Thailand, and to a specific branch of Buddhism popularized by the Indian businessman S.N. Goenka and his mentor U Ba Khin as a nonsectarian form of Buddhism, and also by Americans Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Saltzberg and Jack Kornfield (who were inspired by the monks Mahasi Sayadaw and Achaan Chah)under the rubric “insight meditation.”
- “Is Vipassana the same as Theravada?” An elaboration on the different meanings of Vipassana related in this article
- Vipassana Meditation As Taught By S. N. Goenka
- Free Public Domain E-Book Containing Instructions for Vipassana Meditation in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw
- “One tool among many” by Bhikkhu Thannisaro, arguing based on the Pali Tipitaka that Samana or tranquility meditation and Vipassana go hand in hand.
- “Practical Vipassana Exercises”, by Mahasi Sayadaw.
- How Meditation Works